“…Spirit and Life”: John 10:10, 28; 12:25

Not long ago (May 21, 2020) we celebrated the ascension of Jesus—i.e. 40 days after Easter, based on the information in Acts 1:3ff. The “ascension” of Jesus is referred to differently in the Gospels and Acts, and can be understood several ways, based upon the particular narrative under consideration. Most Christians have the scene in Acts 1:9-11 in mind, but there are other references to Jesus’ ascension/departure from the disciples in Luke 24:50-51 [MT] and the “long ending” of Mark (16:19), and, because of the differences in the narrative location and setting, it is not entirely clear if these passages are supposed to refer to the same event as Acts 1:9-11. The situation is further complicated by mention of an ‘ascension’ by Jesus in John 20:17. I have discussed these matters in a prior article.

The earliest Christians, in their preaching and proclamation of the Gospel, did not refer to specifically to the Ascension as such, but rather, the resurrection of Jesus was connected closely to his exaltation by the Father, to a place in Heaven at the Father’s right hand. The emphasis is not so much on Jesus’ actual departure from earth, as to his position in glory in Heaven following the resurrection. The Gospel of John preserves this early view, but it is expanded and developed in the discourses of Jesus in several ways:

    1. The motif of the Son’s ascent is set parallel to his descent—i.e. his coming to earth (as a human being). This ascent/descent theme appears numerous times throughout the Gospel and is related to the dualistic imagery of above/below, etc. The motif is expressed primarily through use of the related verbs a)nabai/nw (“step up”) and katabai/nw (“step down”)—Jesus (the Son) has stepped down (descended) from heaven, and again steps up (ascends) back to the Father in heaven.
    2. There is a strong emphasis on the Son’s return to the Father—he was sent (into the world) by the Father, and returns back to Him.
    3. In the Last Discourse (chaps. 14-17), the theme of Jesus’ departure becomes prominent, though it had been introduced earlier in the Gospel as well (6:62; 7:33-34; 8:21-22ff). It has a two-fold meaning, referring to: (1) Jesus’ death, and (2) his ultimate return to the Father.

Of all the New Testament writings, it is in John that the death, resurrection and ‘ascension’ of Jesus are most thoroughly combined—and by Jesus himself, in the great discourses which make up the core of the Gospel. One of the ways this is expressed is by the verb u(yo/w (“raise/lift high”). In 3:14 and 8:28, Jesus refers to himself being “lifting high”, with the title “Son of Man”; while in 12:32, he makes the same essential declaration, but with the personal pronoun:

“And I, if I am lifted high out of the earth, I will drag all (person)s toward myself”

In 3:14, it is the death of Jesus (i.e. lifted up on the cross) which is most clearly in view, as also in 8:28; however, the same verb in 12:32 seems rather to refer to Jesus’ exaltation. He speaks of being “lifted high out of the earth“. This can refer concretely to being raised out of the tomb, but also, more properly, in the sense of his departure from earth. Just as the Father sent him into the world, so also he will be going out of it. Both aspects are likely in view here in this reference.

This series of notes is dealing with the themes of Life (zwh/) and the Spirit (pneu=ma). The theme of life in connection with resurrection features prominently in the Lazarus episode of chapter 11, especially the dialogue between Jesus and Martha in vv. 20-27. However, I have discussed these verses at length in an earlier series, and so will not be addressing them here. Instead, I wish to consider briefly three verses from the surrounding chapters (10 and 12) where Jesus makes use of the word zwh/ (“life”).

John 10:10

This is part of the “Good Shepherd” parable-discourse in chapter 10. It is here in this discourse that the sacrificial death of Jesus comes more clearly into view. The structure generally follows the Johannine discourse format and may be outlined simply as follows:

    • Saying (parable) of Jesus (vv. 1-5)
    • Reaction by the people indicating a lack of understanding (v. 6)
    • Exposition by Jesus, which may be divided into three parts (each beginning with an “I am” declaration):
      • Jesus as the door/gate of the sheepfold (vv. 7-10): “I am…”
      • Jesus as the herdsman of the sheep (vv. 11-13): “I am…”
      • What Jesus as herdsman does for the sheep (vv. 14-18): “I am…”
    • Narrative conclusion [reaction by the people] (vv. 19-21)

Verse 10 concludes the first expository section (on Jesus as the door or entrance [qu/ra] to the sheepfold). It is only the shepherd, with charge over the sheep, who opens and closes this door; thus this verse provides the transition to the next section, in which Jesus is no longer the door, but the shepherd. Only the shepherd is able to open/close the door, and, when it is closed, any other person who enters presumably does so only to steal or harm the sheep. This effectively distinguishes the shepherd from all other persons. Jesus makes this contrast clear in verse 10:

“The (one) stealing does not come if not [i.e. except] that he might steal and slaughter and bring to ruin; (but) I came that they [i.e. the sheep] might hold life, and might hold (it) over (and) above (all else)”

This involves the familiar expression “hold life”, using the verb e&xw (“hold”); elsewhere in the Gospel, as we have seen, this life is often specified as “the Life of the Age” (i.e. eternal life). The role of herdsman is to protect the sheep (from harm) and to guide them where they can find life-giving sustenance. In both respects he is saving/preserving their lives—the sheep have/hold life under his care.

John 10:28

This verse is from the second half of chapter 10 (vv. 22-39), which comprises a second discourse, but one which shares important themes with vv. 1-21, and it is possible to read the passages in tandem as part of a single discourse-scene. Verses 25-30 reprise the “Good Shepherd” illustration—but here there is a more definite contrast between those sheep who belong to the shepherd and those who do not. For the religious leaders and others who are unable (or refuse) to accept Jesus, he designates them as those who are not part of his flock (vv. 25-26). By contrast, those who do trust in him are part of the flock:

“My sheep hear my voice and I know them, and they follow me, and I give them (the) Life of the Age, and no, they should not (ever) come to ruin into the Age, and no one will seize them out of my hand.” (vv. 27-28)

This motif, of Jesus giving to believers the “Life of the Age” (i.e. eternal life), occurred in the earlier discourses, as has been discussed in prior notes. In the context of the Johannine discourses, this Life which Jesus gives is to be identified primarily with the Spirit (cf. 3:34-35; 4:10ff, 24; 6:27ff, 63; 7:37-39). This is an important theological development of the traditional expression “life of the Age”, as we have discussed. That this Life is connected with the very presence and power of God is clear from vv. 28f, where God (the Father) is the ultimate source of this life (and its preservation/protection) for believers:

“My Father, who has given (them) to me, is greater than all, and no one is able [i.e. has power] to seize (anything) out of the Father’s hand.” (v. 29)

For the chain of relationship between Father and Son, see especially 3:34-35 and 5:26. This will become a central theme in the Last Discourse, in particular the great prayer-discourse of chapter 17.

John 12:25

The theme of Jesus’ sacrificial death, so central to the Good Shepherd discourse (10:11-18)—the laying down of his soul/life and taking it up again—takes on even greater significance as we approach the start of the Passion narrative. In the Gospel of John, the (triumphal) entry of Jesus into Jerusalem is narrated in 12:12-19; Jerusalem is the setting, from verse 20 on, into the beginning of the Passion (chap. 13). There is an interesting parallel here between 12:20-36a (set in Jerusalem) and the Synoptic tradition at the transition point between the end of Jesus’ Galilean ministry and the beginning of the journey to Jerusalem. Consider the following points of similarity:

Indeed, the saying of Jesus in 12:25 is close in thought to the Synoptic saying in Mk 8:35 par:

“For whoever would wish to save his soul will bring it to ruin, but whoever will bring his soul to ruin for my sake and (for) the good message [i.e. Gospel] will save it.” (Mk)
“The one loving his soul brings it to ruin, and the one hating his soul in this world will watch/guard it into (the) Life of the Age.” (Jn)

However one would explain the development of the sayings of Jesus in the Gospel tradition (on this, cf. my recent series “Jesus and the Gospel Tradition”), there can be no doubt that the Johannine version of this traditional saying—this particular form of it—has certain elements which are distinctive to the Fourth Gospel. We may note the use of the articular participle, so frequent in John, to describe the disciple (believer)—”the (one) …ing”—as well as his opposite. Even more important are the qualifying expressions which enhance the point of contrast:

    • “in this world”—with the use of ko/smo$ (“world-order, world”)
    • “into the Life of the Age”—for this expression, cf. the previous notes of this series

The believer is one who “hates” his soul [i.e. his human life] insofar as it is in the world—that is, in the current age and world-order dominated by sin and darkness. The non-believer, by contrast, loves the darkness (3:19), and thus loves his life in the darkness. The contrast to the world and its darkness is the Life and Light of God found in the person of Jesus. This aspect of (eternal) Life will be discussed further in the next daily note, on 12:50.

April 10 (2): John 10:1-21

To commemorate Friday of Holy Week (Good Friday), I will be exploring the “Good Shepherd” discourse of John 10:1-21, leading up to the climactic verses 17-18 which relate specifically to the Passion of Christ.

There are two main patterns for the discourses of Jesus in the Gospel of John: (1) partial-dialogue and (2) continuous exposition. The previously-discussed discourses in chapters 3, 7-8 and 12 follow the first pattern, where the people hearing Jesus’ words react and respond with a question that reflects some level of misunderstanding, prompting Jesus to respond in turn. John 10:1-21 follows the second pattern, which can be compared in some ways to the longer parables in the Synoptic Gospels; the Vine discourse of John 15 is another example.

Jesus begins with a compact illustration or “parable”—the word used by the Gospel writer here is paroimi/a (paroimía “along the path”, i.e. “by way of…”) rather than parabolh/ (parabol¢¡  “[something] cast/thrown alongside”, i.e. “comparison”). Paroimi/a could be rendered “metaphor” or “proverb”, presumably comparable to the Hebrew word lv*m* (m¹š¹l); it is rare in the New Testament, occurring elsewhere only in Jn 16:25, 29 and 2 Pet 2:22. The illustration consists of verses 1-5, with two main figures: (a) the door (qu/ra) to the sheep-pen (the au)lh/ or “open space” for the sheep, presumably surrounded by a wall), and (b) the shepherd (poimh/n, the “keeper/guardian” or “herder” of the sheep). These two figures are brought together in vv. 1-2 by way of two theologically significant verbs: (a) a)nabai/nw (anabaínœ, “step up”), used in v. 1 for the thieves or “false” shepherds who climb up into the sheep-pen; and (b) ei)se/rxomai (eisérchomai, “come/go into”) in v. 2 for the “true” shepherd who enters through the door. There are two main themes as well within the illustration:

(a) The “true” or ideal shepherd contrasted with the “false” or wicked shepherd (emphasized in vv. 1-2)
(b) The sheep follow the (true) shepherd, who calls them by name—they know his voice (vv. 3-5)

It is curious that Jesus identifies himself with both the door and the shepherd (cf. the exposition in vv. 7-18). It is clear that some early scribes had difficulty understanding this, for a number of textual witnesses (including the early MS Ë75) read poimh/n (“shepherd”) instead of qu/ra (“door”) in verse 7. I tend to interpret the door and the sheep-pen according to Jesus’ (i.e. the Son’s) relationship to (and identity with) the Father—going out and in of the door is illustrative of Jesus coming from and returning to the Father. As such, according to the theology in John, since Jesus is the way to the Father for believers (Jn 14:6), he is the door for them as well. From another aspect, the sheep-pen also reflects the unity of believers in/with God and Christ (cf. especially Jn 17:20-23ff).

In the exposition of the illustration which comes next (vv. 7-18), Jesus discusses both figures (door and shepherd): verses 7-10 deal with the door, and verses 11-18 with the shepherd. Each section follows a common pattern:

    • “I Am” (e)gw/ ei)mi) statement of Jesus—v. 7 / 11
      • Contrast of “true” vs. “false” shepherd, emphasizing that only the true/ideal Shepherd cares for the sheep—v. 8 / 12-13
    • “I Am” (e)gw/ ei)mi) statement of Jesus (repeated)—v. 9a / 14a
      • Emphasis on the shepherd leading the sheep, and the sheep following—v. 9b / 14b-16
    • Statement of salvific purpose and action of the Shepherd—v. 19 / 17-18

Comment should be made on the expression o( poimh\n o( kalo/$, usually translated “the good shepherd”, though a more literal rendering would be “the beautiful keeper/herder”. Here the adjective kalo/$ probably should be understood in the sense of “fine, noble”; it might, however, also have the connotation of “perfect” or “ideal”, especially in light of the contrast with the “false” shepherds (thieves/bandits and hirelings). In a society such as ancient Israel where pastoralism (herding) was a major part of the economy, the image of the herdsman would have been clear and powerful, much more so than for people in modern Western countries. In the ancient Near East, the shepherd was a common symbol for the ruler (as guardian) of the people, sheep being especially vulnerable and in need of protection. It appears frequently in the Old Testament (2 Sam 5:2; 7:7; [Eccl 12:11]; Isa 44:28; Jer 49:19; 50:44), often used of God as Shepherd (Gen 49:24; Ps 23:1ff; 28:9; 80:1; Isa 40:11; Jer 31:10; Ezek 37:24; Amos 3:12; Mic 7:14). Moses and David are examples of ‘ideal’ rulers who had served as shepherds (cf. the specific association with David in Ps 78:70-72), and on a number of occasions the people Israel are depicted as sheep lost without a shepherd (Num 27:17; 1 Kings 22:17; Jer 50:6; Zech 10:2-3; 13:7; cf. also Mk 6:34; 14:27 par). In the Prophets, the theme of judgment against the (religious) leaders as false (corrupt/wicked/failing) shepherds (Isa 56:11; Jer 2:8; 10:21; 12:10; 25:34-36; 50:6; Zech 10:2-3; 13:7) appears often, occasionally contrasted with the promise of restoration of true/faithful shepherds to lead Israel (Jer 3:15; 23:1-4; Ezek 37:24; Mic 5:4-6). The two Old Testament passages where this theme is most fully expounded are Ezekiel 34 and Zech 11; the last of these is thoroughly a message of judgment (v. 17 is close to 13:7, which Jesus quotes in Mk 14:27 par), whereas Ezek 34 is closer to the thought of the discourse here in Jn 10. Jesus as “Chief Shepherd” appears elsewhere in the New Testament (Heb 13:20; 1 Pet 2:25; 5:4), and Christian leaders are to follow his example as shepherd of a flock (cf. Jn 21:13-17; 1 Pet 5:2, etc). Paradoxially, in the Gospel of John, as well as elsewhere in the New Testament, Jesus is both the Lamb (Jn 1:29, 36, et al.) and Shepherd—an association made explicit in Revelation 7:17.

Special attention should be given to principal theme of the “Good Shepherd” saying and exposition here in Jn 10:11-18:

o( poimh\n o( kalo\$ th\n yuxh\n au)tou= ti/qhsin u(pe\r tw=n proba/twn
“The beautiful keeper/herder sets (down) his soul [i.e. lays down his life] over the sheep” (v. 11b)

This can be understood concretely—the shepherd lays his body over the sheep to protect them—or figuratively—the shepherd gives up (i.e. risks) his life for the sake of protecting the flock. Clearly, in the context of Jesus’ teaching here, the image prefigures his upcoming death; note the use of similar language in the institution of the Lord’s Supper (“this is my blood of the testament/covenant th[at] is poured out over many”, Mark 14:24 and cf. par.). In the Old Testament shepherd imagery, this theme of risking one’s life is not especially emphasized, but only implied within the idea of protection and rescue of the flock (see also the Shepherd parable in Lk 15:3-7; Matt 18:12-14). It is a certain characteristic of the true/ideal/faithful shepherd as opposed to the mere hireling who does not really care for the sheep (vv. 12-13).  But there is even more is involved: the idea of setting/laying down one’s life; note again the structure of this section:

    • “I Am” saying (“I Am the Good Shepherd”), v. 11a
      • Theme: the Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep, v. 11b
      • Contrast between true shepherd and false shepherd (hireling), vv. 12-13
    • “I Am” saying repeated (“I Am the Good Shepherd”), v. 14a
      • Theme: “I know the (sheep that are) mine and the (sheep that are) mine know me”, v. 14b
      • Emphasis on the shepherd leading (a&gw) the sheep, and the sheep following (“hearing”, a)kou/w)—”knowing” explained in terms of hearing, v. 15-16

There are several important (Johannine) theological motifs embedded in the brief exposition of vv. 15-16:

    • The knowing between sheep (believers) and shepherd (Jesus/Son) is reciprocal
    • The relation between believers and Son parallels that of Son to the Father (ultimately Jesus leads them to the Father)
    • This knowing is salvific—it is intimately connected with the sacrifice of the shepherd laying down his life
    • This knowing involves “hearing” the “voice” of the Son (who only speaks what he has heard from the Father)
    • This hearing/knowing/leading involves the unity of all believers (v. 16, with the mission to the Gentiles implied)

The climax of the passage is the statement of salvific purpose and action (vv. 17-18, parallel to that in verse 10) for the Shepherd:

Dia\ tou=to/ me o( path\r a)gapa=| o%ti e)gw\ ti/qhmi th\n yuxh/n mou, i%na pa/lin la/bw au)th/n. ou)dei\$ ai&rei au)th\n a)p’ e)mou=, a)ll’ e)gw\ ti/qhmi au)th\n a)p’ e)mautou=. e)cousi/an e&xw qei=nai au)th/n, kai\ e)cousi/an e&xw pa/lin labei=n au)th/n: tau/thn th\n e)ntolh\n e&labon para\ tou= patro/$ mou
“Through [i.e. because of] this the Father loves me, (in) that I set (down) my soul (s0) that I receive it again. No one carries it (away) from me, but (rather) I set it (down) from myself. I have authority to set it (down) and I have authority to receive it again—this (charge) laid upon (me) [i.e. this command] I received (from) alongside my Father”

Here we have a powerful dualistic expression (setting-down/taking-up) of the two aspects of the Shepherd’s saving sacrifice—setting down life (i.e. death), and taking it up again (i.e. resurrection). There is some ambiguity in the verb lamba/nw, which can be understood either in the sense of “receive” or “take”; for consistency’s sake in the translation above, I rendered all three instances (indicated with italics) as “receive”, but in the first two instances “take” might be more appropriate. Even though Jesus is normally thought of as raised up from the dead by the Father (and not by himself), in the Gospel of John, we have the clear idea that Jesus receives life “in himself” from the (living) Father (see esp. Jn 6:57), and so has the power both to be—and to confer—life (Jn 6:57b; 10:10b; 11:25).

The setting down of Jesus’ life certainly covers the entire Passion, but we can see it vividly expressed especially at the moment of death, where, in John’s account, upon uttering his final word (tete/lestai, “it is completed”), we read:

kai\ kli/na$ th\n kefalh\n pare/dwken to\ pneu=ma
…and bending (down) the head, he gave along [i.e. gave up] the spirit [lit. breath]

For the taking/receiving his life back again, we must wait for Easter Sunday.

April 9 (2): John 6:51-58

All four Gospels record Jesus’ “Last Supper” with his disciples (Matthew 26:17-29; Mark 14:12-25; Luke 22:7-23ff; John 13:1-30), but with a well-known chronological difference: the Synoptics indicate that it was a Passover meal (Matthew 15:7; Mark 14:12; and esp. Luke 22:7), the 14/15th of Nisan; while John records Jesus’ death during the preparation for Passover, 14th Nisan (John 19:14; also cf. 12:1). A number of solutions have been offered to explain or harmonize the difference between the accounts, none, I should say, entirely satisfactory. Much more interesting, however, is the fact that John records no institution of the sacrament (Lord’s Supper), attention rather being given to Jesus’ washing of the disciples’ feet (13:3-20). In fact, the only mention of the bread and cup would seem to be in the “Bread of Life” discourse in chapter 6 (vv. 53-57); this has prompted many scholars to ask if perhaps vv. 51-58 have been inserted by the author/redactor into the current location from a traditional Last Supper setting. But this raises an even more significant question: do verses 51-58 in fact refer to the Eucharist (that is, to the material sacrament)? As I will discuss below, I do not think the primary reference is to the sacrament. However, here are some arguments in favor of a sacramental reference:

    1. Suddenly, in place of Jesus himself (or his words) identified with the Bread from Heaven (“the Bread [which] came down from Heaven”, o( e)k tou= ou)ranou= kataba/$, cf. esp. v. 51), we hear of “eating his flesh” (fa/ghte th\n sa/rka) and  “drinking his “blood” (pi/hte au)tou= to\ ai!ma) (vv. 53-56)
    2. The verb (trw/gw) used in verse 56, conveys a very concrete image of eating (literally “striking” or “crunching” away; in colloquial English it might be rendered “munching”). This would suggest a physical eating (of a material sacrament) and not simply a spiritual appropriation.
    3. It is most unlikely that the Gospel of John would not have some reference to the Eucharist, and this is the only passage which fits.
    4. The “embedded” reference to the Eucharist is parallel to a similar reference to the sacrament of Baptism in the Discourse with Nicodemus (see 3:5)
    5. The Bread of Life Discourse follows the Feeding of the Multitude, which, in all four Gospels, is described using Eucharistic language, and presumably was understood in connection with the Eucharist from earliest times.
    6. One critical argument is that a redactor of the final version of the Gospel intentionally added in more specific sacramental details in order to modify or qualify an otherwise “spiritualist” teaching.

What about the idea that the author (or redactor) added Eucharistic teachings of Jesus to the discussion of vv. 25-50? One can certainly see how verse 51(b) could have been a connection point with the prior teachings on the “Bread from Heaven” (expounding the Passover theme of the Manna), as well as teaching on the Eucharist. The mention of “flesh” (o( a&rto$ de\ o^n e)gw\ dw/sw h( sa/rc mou/ e)stin u(pe\r th=$ tou= kosmou/ zwh=$, “and the bread which I will give over [i.e. on behalf of] the life of the world is my flesh“) would lead naturally to discussion of the Eucharist. The real problem, however, is not so much vv. 51-58, but rather what follows: vv. 60-71, especially verse 63: to\ pneu=ma/ e)stin to\ zw|opoiou=n, h( sa\rc ou)k w)felei= ou)den (“the spirit is th[at which] makes live, the flesh profits nothing”). The tone of this portion seems to be at odds with a reference to the material sacrament in vv. 51-58. A number of critical scholars have noted that reading 6:25-50 and 60-71 in sequence makes good sense, while including vv. 51-58 creates an interpretive difficulty. R. E. Brown, in his commentary (Anchor Bible 29 pp. 302-303), takes the precarious step of assuming both that vv. 51-58 were added by a redactor, and that we should read vv. 60-71 as relating to vv. 25-50 but not to vv. 51-58.

In my view, it is important to look at the Gospel as it has come down to us, whether or not sayings of Jesus from different contexts have been combined together to give it its current form. I would outline the chapter as follows:

  • 6:1-14: The Miraculous Feeding, which includes Eucharist language and imagery [v. 11-13] + transitional verse 15
  • [6:16-21: The traditional episode of the Jesus’ Walking on the Water to meet his disciples]
  • [6:22-24: Transitional section which sets the scene]
  • 6:25-30: Discussion of the Miraculous Feeding, with a saying of Jesus on the “work of God” (tou=to/ e)stin to\ e&rgon tou= qeou=, i%na pisteu/hte ei)$ o^n a)pe/steilen e)kei=no$, “this is the work of God: that you should trust in the [one] whom that one sent”, v. 29)
  • 6:31-59: The Bread of Life Discourse, which I break down into four parts:
    a) The Scripture reference (“Bread from Heaven”), and Jesus’ initial exposition: 6:31-33
    b) Crowd (“Lord, give us this bread always”) and Jesus’ Response: e)gw/ ei)mi o( a&rto$ th=$ zwh=$ (“I Am the bread of life…”), 6:34-40
    c) ‘The Jews’ reaction to “I am the Bread”/”which came down out of Heaven” and Jesus’ Response, 6:41-51
    d) ‘The Jews’ reaction to “The Bread that I will give…is my flesh” and Jesus’ Response, 6:52-58 + concluding note v. 59
  • 6:60-71: Discussion of the Bread of Life Discourse (the Disciples’ Reaction), in two parts:
    a) The reaction “This is a rough account [i.e. word/saying], who is able to hear it?” and Jesus’ Response, 6:60-65
    b) The turning away of many disciples, with Peter’s response (“you have words of life [of the] Age [i.e. eternal life]”), 6:66-71

Here I view vv. 51-58 as integral to the Discourse as we have it. The “flesh and blood” of vv. 53-56 is an intensification and expansion of the imagery in verse 51: the “bread that he gives” is his “flesh [and blood]”—compare verses 51 and 54:

e)a\n ti$ fa/gh| e)k tou/tou tou= a&rtou
(“If someone should [actually] eat out of [i.e. from] this bread…”)
o( trw/gwn mou th\n sa/rka kai\ pi/nwn mou to\ ai!ma
(“The [one] chewing [‘chopping at’] my flesh and drinking my blood…“)

zhsei ei)$ to\n ai)w=na (“…he shall live into the Age [i.e. have eternal life]”)
e&xei zwh\n ai)w/nion (“…has life [of the] Age [i.e. has eternal life]”)

Jesus’ returns to mention just the bread again in the concluding verse 58, which also reiterates the OT scripture (and motif) that began the Discourse: ou!to/$ e)stin o( a&rto$ o( e)c ou)ranou= kataba/$, “this is the bread (which) came down out of heaven”.

Another way to read the core section of the discourse (6:35-58) is in parallel, as though verses 35-50 and 51-58 represented two aspects of the same message. Note the points of similarity:

    • Saying of Jesus: “I am the bread of life / living bread” which begins the section (v. 35a / 51a)
    • Teaching by Jesus expounding the “bread of life” in terms of “coming/believing” and “eating his flesh”, respectively (35b-40 / 51)
    • Question by “the Jews” (grumbling/disputing), reacting (with misunderstanding) to Jesus’ teaching (41-42 / 52)
    • Jesus’ Response: second exposition (43-47 / 53-57)
    • Concluding “Bread of Life” statement, comparing those who ate manna with those who eat the true bread from heaven (48-50 / 58)

Each of these sections follows the basic pattern of the discourses in the Gospel of John (see the previous day’s note). It is interesting that in vv. 35-50, eating as such is not mentioned (until the conclusion, vv. 49-50); rather the emphasis is on “coming toward” Jesus and “believing in [lit. trusting into/unto]” him, which is part of the initial statement in verse 35:

“The (one) coming toward me, no he shall not hunger; and the (one) trusting into/unto me, no he will not thirst, never”

This is contrasted with vv. 51-58 where the theme is specifically “eating” (Grk fa/gw):

“If (any) one should eat out of this bread he will live into the Age; and the bread which I will give is my flesh, over [i.e. on behalf of] the life of the world” (v. 51b)

It is also interesting the way that “bread” clearly represents both food and drink in v. 35. This is paralleled in vv. 51-58, where the bread (“flesh”) of v. 51 quickly expands to include “blood” in verse 53ff; it signifies both aspects of human sustenance as well as both primary aspects of the human (physical) constitution, in conventional terms.

How should we relate these two main points of emphasis: “coming/believing” and “eating/drinking”? Is one sapiental (response to Jesus’ words as teaching/wisdom) and the other sacramental (participation in the ritual symbol [eucharist])? Or do they reflect two sets of images corresponding to the single idea of spiritual life in union with Christ? I prefer to regard them as signifying two “levels” for the believer. The first, that of coming/believing (vv. 35-50), is well served by the use of the two prepositions (pro$ “toward”, and ei)$ “unto/into”)—the believer approaches Christ through faith, coming, we could even say, “into” him. At the second level (vv. 51-58), believers commune and nourish themselves—now Christ comes “into” the believer, there is now life in us (cf. the powerful statement in verse 57). But is this second level specifically the Eucharist, in a ritual sense?

In the context of the Discourse, the sacrament of the Eucharist may be implied (a preshadowing), but I do not think it is at all primary to Jesus’ teaching. It is rather the Person of Jesus himself and the Life which he conveys—by means of the Spirit—which is central to the message; and it is this “word” (lo/go$) which the disciples find “rough” or difficult to hear. Too much has been made of verse 63, for it simply gives priority to the Spirit—especially in a sacramental context (Eucharist)—just as the Spirit takes priority in the context of Baptism (3:5-8). In other words, Spirit first, then sacrament; too often in Church history, Christians have made it the other way around, as though only through the tangible sacrament (as a “means of grace”), can one truly experience the Spirit. Consider the fierce fighting over the words of the institution (tou=to/ e)stin to\ sw=ma/ mou, “this is my body”, Mark 14:22 par.)—all of the ink (and blood) spilled over the significance of “is” (e)stin)—when it would have been better, I think, to focus on the demonstrative pronoun (“this”, tou=to): that is, not the reality of the sacrament, but the reality of what it signifies. In this regard, it is absolutely necessary to study and meditate carefully on the Bread of Life discourse in John.

April 3 (2): John 10:1-18

John 10:1-18ff

Jesus as the “Good Shepherd” is one of the most beloved themes from the Gospels—however, the popular image of Jesus carrying the sheep really stems from the parable in Luke 15:3-7 (parallel in Matthew 18:12-14), of the shepherd who leaves the ninety-nine to rescue the one “lost” sheep that had strayed: a beautiful image of care and concern for the sinner, the poor, the outcast. The parable in John (10:1-5, expounded in verses 7-18, 27-29) is rather different: the “good” (literally, “beautiful”, kalo/$) shepherd is one who guides and protects the entire flock (or herd, poi/mnh). Actually, Jesus describes himself as both the shepherd and the sheepgate (“door”, qu/ra) in the parable. This seems to have caused some confusion for early scribes: Ë75, along with Coptic (Sahidic, Akhmimc, Fayyumic) versions, read “shepherd” (o( poimh/n) instead of “door” (h( qu/ra) in verse 7. The “Good Shepherd” passage can be broken down as follows:

    1. The parable, 10:1-6
    2. Jesus as the door (gate) to the sheepfold, 10:7-10
    3. Jesus as the shepherd, 10:11-13
    4. The unity and preservation of the flock, 10:14-18
    5. A reprise of the shepherd theme, 10:25-30

Here I will look briefly at aspects of the last two sections, which are closely related and serve as a climactic revelatory moment for the parable (and exposition) of vv. 1-13. I find several primary themes, all of which are, in various ways, developed in subsequent chapters of the Gospel:

A. Mutual knowledge between Shepherd and Flock

In verse 14, right after the key declaration that he is (“I am”, e)gw/ ei)mi) the “beautiful shepherd” (o( poimh\n o( kalo/$), Jesus states that ginw/skw ta\ e)ma\ kai\ ginw/skousi/ me ta\ e)ma\, “I know the (things/ones that are) mine and the (thing/ones that are) mine know me”. The motif of knowing and knowledge (gnw=si$) is prominent throughout the Gospel of John (see especially the great discourses in chapters 8, 13, 14, and 17). Clearly this is not simply a matter of intellectual or factual knowledge, but of an intuitive recognition or “trust” (pi/sti$) (based on one’s true identity as a believer)—see Jesus’ response to the people questioning him in verse 26: u(mei=$ ou) pisteu/ete, o%ti ou)k e)ste\ e)k tw=n proba/twn tw=n e)mw=n, “you do not trust [i.e. believe], because you are not out of [i.e. from or belonging to] my sheep”. There something of a “gnostic” quality to this: it not so much a matter of conversion or learning something new, but of recognition, of realizing who (and whose) you (already) are. It would be precarious to read a full-fledged Augustinian-Reformed doctrine of predestination into passages such as this, but the basic concept is, I think, appropriate. Certainly the shepherd’s knowledge of the sheep is mentioned first, and takes priority. While the structure of the motif in verse 14 stresses mutual knowledge, it is not out of place to consider that our knowledge of Christ is based on his (pre-existing) knowledge of us (see John 15:16; 1 John 4:19, etc). This recognition of the shepherd leads to the sheep following him (not the other way around).

B. The Voice of the Shepherd

What the sheep follow is the voice of the shepherd (verse 16, 27; see also in the parable v. 3-5). The parallel motif of voice/hearing also occurs throughout the Gospel. The voice (fwnh/), of course is the audible expression of speech (i.e., lo/go$ “word, saying, account”)—Christ as the lo/go$ also gives account or “speaks” (le/gw). It is important to examine: (1) the source and nature of the voice in the Gospel, and (2) how the voice manifests itself in the context of the Gospel.

(1) First, the “word” (lo/go$) was (h@n) in the beginning (e)n a)rxh=|) with [lit. toward, pro$] God, and was God (qeo$) (John 1:1ff). Second, throughout the Gospel, Jesus emphasizes over and over that he (the Son) only does what he hears (John 5:30; 12:49-50; also 16:13 [of the Spirit], etc) and sees (5:19-20, etc) the Father saying and doing (the [incarnate] inter-relationship between Father and Son). And third, throughout the Gospel, Jesus’ words (voice) is identified with the voice of God—i.e., they speak with a common voice. This is especially so in relation to the idea of resurrection (5:19-29), where it is stated that all who are in the tombs “will hear his voice” (a)kou/sousin th=$ fwnh=$ au)tou=) and “will travel [i.e. come] out” (e)kporeu/sontai) (v. 28-29, cf. also v. 25 “the ones hearing [his voice] will live”).

(2) The message of 5:25, 28-29 will be acted out dramatically in the scene of the raising of Lazarus (11:1-44, esp. v. 43). Soon after, when Jesus is in Jerusalem, in response to his prayer (Pa/ter, do/caso/n sou to\ o&noma, “Father, glorify your name”, 12:28), there was “a voice out of heaven” (fwnh/ e)k tou= ou)ranou=) like “thunder” (bronth/)—a clear echo of the Theophany on Mt Sinai (Exodus 19:19; 20:18: in Ancient Near Eastern thinking thunder was generally understood as the “voice” of God). If, in these two scenes there is a visible, audible manifestation of the power of the Divine Voice, in chapters 13-17 the Voice is manifest at the spiritual level in Jesus’ discourses (presented as his parting words) to his disciples. Indeed, the coming Spirit (16:13-15) will, like Jesus himself [as his abiding presence in believers], speak whatever he hears (from the Father), and will glorify Christ (just like the Divine Voice of 12:28), receiving (lh/yetai) what is out of [i.e. from, belonging to] the Son, and will “declare” (a)paggelei= lit. “give [forth] a message”) it to the believer.  In the passion and resurrection narratives too there is a subtle dramatization of Jesus’ voice; note especially the words to Pilate: “into this [i.e. for this] I have come into the world, that I should witness [to] the truth; every one that is out of [e)k, “of, from, belonging to”] the truth hears my voice [a)kou/ei mou th=$ fwnh=$] (18:37). Note again that it is not hearing the voice that leads one to the truth, but one hears the voice because he/she already belongs to the truth. Interestingly, the crowd could not understand the Divine Voice (12:28-29).

C. The Authority of the Shepherd

The inter-relation and mutual identity of Father and Son has already been mentioned (cf. 10:15, “as the Father knows me and I know the Father”). But what is also specified in the Good Shepherd passage is the “authority” (e)cousi/a) Christ has (v. 18), specifically the authority to “set (down)” (aorist infinitive of ti/qhmi) and to “take/receive” (aor. inf. of lamba/nw) again his soul (or “life”, yuxh/). The word e)cousi/a (from e&cestin/e&ceimi) defies a strict literal translation in English, but it would be something like “from being” in the sense of something which “can be (done)”—i.e., power, ability, but also that which is permitted, lawful, etc. By extension, e)cousi/a often refers to the power or ability (to do something) granted by another (i..e, by one more powerful, king, ruler, etc). In this regard, orthodox believers are a bit uncomfortable speaking of authority being “given” to Christ by one “more powerful” (the Father); and, while it is not necessary to read a strict subordinationism here, Jesus specifically states that the authority (with the task of setting down and taking up his life) is a “commandment” or “charge” place on him (e)ntolh/) which he received from the Father (10:18). This charge is, literally, for the completion (te/lo$) of a mission, and to fulfill God’s purpose—for the suffering and death (the setting [down]) and resurrection and glorification (the taking [up] again) which was soon to come. This image of the shepherd who th\n yuxh\n au)tou= ti/qhsin u(pe\r tw=n proba/twn (“sets [down] his soul over [i.e. on behalf of] the sheep”) (10:11) is most beautiful indeed. One must also point out that the authority is not, in fact, merely “subordinate”, but equal to the Father—consider the powerful statement in verse 28: “and I give them life (of the) Age [i.e. eternal life], and no they shall not perish [or, be destroyed] into the Age, and someone shall not [i.e. no one shall] snatch them out of my hand!” This authority (indeed the sheep themselves, the believers) was given by the Father and no one “has power to snatch (them) out of the Father’s hand” (v. 29), and the statement culminates with Jesus’ famous declaration: e)gw\ kai\ o( path\r e%n e)smen (“I and the Father are one”, v. 30).

D. The Unity of the Flock

Perhaps most extraordinary in this passage is the effect both of the shepherd’s voice and of his laying down his life: that there will come to be (genh/sonta) “a single herd [i.e. flock], (and) one herdsman [i.e. shepherd]” (mi/a poi/mnh ei($ poi/mhn). This last phrase is quite remarkable; it is necessary to examine each part separately and then both combined:

(1) mi/a poi/mnh (“one herd” or “one flock”). This has two aspects: (a) the unity of Jewish and Gentile believers, clearly indicated by the “other sheep” (a&lla pro/bata) who will “hear his voice” (10:1, notice also in this context the Greeks who approach Jesus in chapter 12).  More importantly, (b) the unity of all believers, a message subtly present throughout the entire Gospel, but which will find sublime expression in the “prayer” of chapter 17.

(2) ei($ poi/mhn (“one shepherd”). In his exposition of the parable, Jesus speaks of the “thief” who tries to sneak in and steal (or kill) the sheep (v. 8, 10), and the mere hireling who does not protect the sheep (v. 12-13)—both are false shepherd (“strangers”) whom sheep will not truly follow (v. 5). There is only one shepherd the sheep follow (v. 4, 14, 16, 27), and only one who lays his life down for the flock.

(3) mi/a poi/mnh ei($ poi/mhn (“one [sheep-]herd, one shepherd”). This means more than simply a combination of the two statements; rather the combined statement itself represents something quite new (and deeper). The key, I think, is the parallel declaration in v. 14-15, which I arrange chiastically:

  • e)gw/ ei)mi o( poimh\n o( kalo/$ (“I am the beautiful shepherd”)
    • kai\ ginw/skw ta\ e)ma\ kai\ ginw/skousi/ me ta\ e)ma/ (“and I know the [ones that are] mine, and the [ones that are] mine know me”)
    • kaqw\$ ginw/skei me o( path\r ka)gw\ ginw/skw to\n pate/ra (“even as the Father knows me and I know the Father”)
  • kai\ th\n yuxh/n mou ti/qhmi u(pe\r tw=n proba/twn (“and I set [down] my soul over [i.e. on behalf of] the sheep”)

The inner phrases express the great two-fold theme of unity, declared more completely in Jesus’ words to the Father in chapter 17:

i%na w@sin e^n kaqw\$ h(mei=$
“they they might be one even as we [are] (v. 11)”

i%na pa/nte$ e^n w@sin, kaqw\$ su/, pa/ter, e)n e)moi\ ka)gw\ e)n soi/, i%na kai\ au)toi\ e)n h(mi=n w@sin
“that all might be one, even as you, Father, [are] in me and I in you, that also they might be in us (v. 21)”

ka)gw\ th\n do/can h^n de/dwka/$ moi de/dwka au)toi=$, i%na w@sin e^n kaqw\$ h(mei=$ e%n
“and I have given the glory, which you have given to me, to them, that they might be one even as we [are] one (v. 22)”

i%na h( a)ga/ph h^n h)ga/phsa/$ me e)n au)toi=$ h@| ka)gw\ e)n au)toi=$
“…that the love [with] which you loved me might be in them, and I in them (v. 26b)”

Jesus as the Good Shepherd was a popular theme in early Christian art, including a number of depictions in the 2nd/3rd-century catacombs (underground burial sites in and around Rome)—making them some of the very earliest Christian works of art to survive. The pastoral imagery—well-known from mythology and the bucolic poetry of Theocritus, Virgil, et al.—was especially suited for an idyllic representation of the afterlife in Greco-Roman culture. But for Christians, there was probably an inherent religious message as well. The Good Shepherd discourse in John precedes the raising of Lazarus from the dead; and, surely the image of the shepherd protecting and preserving his sheep offered considerable comfort to those facing death. One might also have had in mind the words of John 10:28: “and I give them eternal life [life of the Age], and no they shall not perish unto the Age, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand!”